To those who had read his book The Other America, Michael Harrington seemed especially business-like in his discussion of poverty at the Winthrop House Forum last night. Avoiding the rhetoric of the book, Harrington carefully outlined the "problems of at least 40 million impoverished Americans" to an audience of about 100.
When he discussed the various justifications of a war on poverty, for instance, Harrington glossed over the traditional "brotherhood" arguments, and gave more considerable time to the "cash-and-carry" argument. In the long run, he said, it will probably be much cheaper to abolish poverty than to continue maintaining it with government funds.
Harringon prefaced his remarks with a statement of "guarded optimism," but he spent most of the evening in discussing those aspects of poverty in the United States about which he finds it "very hard to be optimistic."
The outspoken author began by sketching both his definitions and the dimensions of poverty in this country. Harrington defined a poor person as one who has a "multiplicity of miseries, each of which reinforces the other." Within that definition, he mentioned jobs, housing and education as three of the most recurrent problems of the poor.
"Full employment is a precondition to an unconditional 'War on Poverty'," Harrington said, "for without it, we may only recruit more and more people to the ranks of the poor."
Unless more jobs, more housing, and more education are provided, Harrington continued, "poverty may create social chaos, and it may lead to a very violent and explosive sort of situation."
Much more comprehensive solutions and programs than those of President Johnson are needed, Harrington said. First of all, he said, the government must realize that the "War" will be "won or lost in Washington D.C., not with a grass roots movement." Secondly, the public sector must be extended, primarily because the private sector is not generating jobs. Finally, he said, "we must begin to redistribute the wealth of this country" by "having social planning on a national level for decent purposes."